House Democrats aren’t racing to endorse Rep. Loretta SanchezLoretta L. SanchezIn her three elections, Kamala Harris has learned to adapt — and win Kamala Harris is Donald Trump's worst nightmare Disputed North Carolina race raises prospect of congressional probe MORE (D-Calif.) for Senate, adding to the perception that she is a long shot to defeat California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D).

Sanchez’s campaign has gotten off to a rocky start, with the congresswoman forced to apologize over the weekend after imitating a Native American “war cry” at the California Democratic Party Convention.


The bad publicity appears to be deepening skepticism among Democrats about her Senate campaign, with few rallying to Sanchez’s side despite her nearly two decades of service in the House.

Several San Francisco Bay Area Democrats say they’ve already pledged their support to Harris, a former San Francisco prosecutor who is the favorite to succeed retiring California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).

Southern California lawmakers, meanwhile, are staying out of the race for now. This includes fellow members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus (CHC), on which Sanchez’s sister, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), serves as chairwoman.

Democratic Reps. Grace Napolitano and Raul Ruiz, fellow CHC members from Southern California, aren’t publicly backing anyone yet in the race, their spokesmen said. The same goes for Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat who represents a neighboring congressional district, and retiring Rep. Janice Hahn (D), whom Sanchez endorsed in her bid for L.A. County supervisor.

“I haven’t endorsed at this point,” added Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.

To top it off, the Golden State’s most powerful politician on Capitol Hill, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said she plans to hold off on an endorsement until she sees “who else of my colleagues may decide to get in.”

Like Pelosi, many Southern California Democrats appear to be keeping their powder dry until another Hispanic lawmaker from Los Angeles, Rep. Xavier Becerra, makes up his mind about whether to jump in the big-dollar Senate contest. Rep. John Garamendi, a former lieutenant governor of California, has also said he’s eyeing the race.  

Democratic insiders don’t think Becerra, the Democratic Caucus Chairman, will pull the trigger, saying the No. 4 leader has a better shot of moving up the ladder if he stays put. Pelosi is expected to leave Congress soon, and one potential leadership rival, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, is making his own bid for the Senate in Maryland.

But Becerra is telling supporters not to count him out. Sanchez’s announcement last week, he said, came as no surprise, because the two colleagues have been “chatting for awhile about the Senate race.”

“I’ve got a process. I’ve said it not just to you, but to my wife, my supporters, a lot of folks who are very interested in who will become the next senator,” Becerra told The Hill in an interview. “I’m going to go through a process and do it in a smart way. I’ve been around too long to just sort of do things on a whim or without thinking them through.”

On Capitol Hill, Sanchez, 55, is known for being strong on national defense and military issues, but she has also generated headlines for her quirky Christmas cards with her cat Gretzky and for holding fundraisers at the Playboy Mansion.

Democratic sources said Sanchez didn’t seem quite prepared for the rollout of her campaign. Earlier in the week, supporters received an email saying she planned to announce her bid within days, but sources close to the congresswoman then told reporters she hadn’t actually decided whether to run.

While Democrats don’t think Sanchez’s war-cry gaffe will doom the campaign, they insist she needs better staffers. Emails from The Hill to both her office and Senate campaign were not returned.

“The false start was a staff problem. Everybody says stupid stuff, but good press staff can make it less of a problem,” said a senior Democratic aide who’s tracking the Senate race. “She can recover but she needs to ensure she has staff appropriate for the challenges of a competitive primary in the most populous state.”

Even with a smooth campaign launch, Sanchez would be facing an uphill fight against Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Harris, 50, is the daughter of a Jamaican-American father and Indian mother. If elected, she would become California’s first black senator and the state’s first Asian-American female senator.

The former San Francisco district attorney has already lined up a slew of endorsements from her own backyard, including Democratic Reps. Ami Bera, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jared Huffman and Eric Swalwell, all of whom represent Bay Area or Sacramento-
area districts. On top of that, Los Angeles-area Rep. Karen Bass, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is supporting Harris over Sanchez.

Harris, a close ally of President Obama’s, has also received backing from Democratic stars like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) while raising $2.5 million for her campaign in the first three months of 2015. She has about $2.2 million in the bank.

Sanchez’s House campaign, in contrast, raised about $234,000 in the first quarter and had about $540,000 cash on hand.

Swalwell said his endorsement of Harris is about more than their shared roots in the Bay Area — they both worked as prosecutors for Alameda County. The 34-year-old congressman has signed on as chairman of Harris’s young voter outreach effort.

“I like Loretta, but Kamala has all of the experience and vision that we need,” Swalwell told The Hill. “We both served in the same D.A.’s office in Alameda County, and there is a special bond among prosecutors in that office.”

Honda, another Bay Area Democrat, has served in Congress with Sanchez since 2001.

“I hope we’re still friends,” he quipped.

But the former chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said there was no question he would endorse Harris, given his ties to her family.

“That was easy,” Honda said. “She’s a friend, her brother-in-law is a friend of mine, and his wife, Maya Harris, is part of the Hillary campaign. They were all local guys.”